Singapore’s “state-directed, export-oriented, manufacturing-focused, multinational-led” growth model of the past century has run its course, states Professor Linda Lim, Professor Emerita of Corporate Strategy and International Business at the University of Michigan. She suggested that Singapore focus on the large regional Asian consumer market, namely, the ageing high-income Northeast Asia and fast-growing, lower-cost Southeast Asia. This requires deep knowledge of the regional market and the ability to function across disparate cultural and linguistic spaces.
“Singapore is in transition into ‘early middle age’. As our island becomes more built up in the next few decades, how can we secure land for future development?” Dr Cheong Koon Hean, IPS’ 5th S R Nathan Fellow, presented ideas on how Singapore can ensure a constant rejuvenation of the city-state for future generations.
“Information that is publicly distributed and consumed is a public good, and all hands should be on deck to ensure that it is accurate.” Why does regulating publishers alone do little to mitigate online falsehoods, what role do media distributors play?
“Relying solely on legislation may cultivate over-reliance among citizens on authorities to help them discern truth from fiction,” point out IPS Researchers Mr Shawn Goh and Dr Carol Soon in this piece. Both researchers had made a submission in their personal capacity to the Select Committee on Deliberate Online Falsehoods earlier in March.
Content, Context, Communicator’s Identity, Communicator’s Intent, and Consequence – these are the 5Cs that should form a framework to help determine what online falsehoods warrant regulatory intervention, and whom to act against, the two IPS Researchers suggest.
The 5th IPS-Nathan lecture series is themed, Seeking A Better Urban Future. Dr Cheong Koon Hean examines how cities, and Singapore in particular, deal with their challenges to create a better urban life for their citizens. The final lecture will launch off from the fact that more than 80% of Singaporeans live in public housing, and the quality of the living environment in our HDB heartlands defines our concept of `home’ like no other. Participants will be invited to consider how we can think differently about the new generation of HDB towns and renew existing ones, to prepare for future trends.
Click here to register for the third and final lecture.
IPS in the News
IPS Researchers were in the news for their submissions to the Select Committee on online falsehoods, and their research on senior entrepreneurship in Singapore, among other issues. Click here.
IPS Researchers Dr Faizal Bin Yahya and Mooris Tjioe believe that there are three main issues discouraging our businesses from making the leap – a lack of capital, a lack of talented staff to anchor the business, and a lack of market information.
IPS Deputy Director Dr Gillian Koh notes that, as the impending GST hike will be implemented in the next parliamentary term, the general election held before that “may well become a referendum on this GST hike.”
One of Singapore’s strengths has always been the quality of its manpower, but it also is among one of the fastest ageing societies in the world. Could one of the answers to revitalising our labour force lie in the gig economy?
Who should lead the major cultural institutions of a country, and what values and leadership capabilities would they need to have? Read on for the report on the IPS-SAM Roundtable on The Future of Cultural Leadership in Singapore.
The 5th IPS-Nathan lecture series is themed, Seeking A Better Urban Future. Dr Cheong will examine how cities deal with their urban challenges to create a better urban life for their citizens, and the considerations needed to plan and develop Singapore in the face of rapid change. The opening lecture sets the stage by taking a global view to draw insights from some inspiring cities and to uncover their secrets of success.
IPS Researchers commented on Budget 2018, the Select Committee on online falsehoods, and the low level of corruption in Singapore, among other issues. To read the comments of our Researchers on current affairs and policy issues, click here
IPS’ annual flagship conference, Singapore Perspectives, took place on 22 January 2018. This year’s theme was “Together” and it considered how Singapore can approach its ageing demographics more positively, rather than with the usual “doom and gloom” perspectives. The convivial event gathered over 1,000 participants including members of the public, private, and people sectors, academics, and students.
In 2016, Berita Harian reported that, of the 126,000 Singaporeans who had used their SkillsFuture credit, only 8.4 per cent were from the Malay-Muslim Community—an under-representation of the community. This Closed-Door Discussion examined the reasons for the lack of participation, and possible measures to mitigate the situation.
Creative sectors can be a powerful economic force. What lessons do the creative sectors of Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, and Seoul have for Singapore? This report by IPS Adjunct Senior Research Fellow Tan Tarn How and Special Adviser Arun Mahizhnan, commissioned by the then Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts in 2006, has been released for the first time.
IPS in the News
IPS Researchers commented on the growth of Singapore’s median household income and the Workers’ Party’s decision to hold its leadership elections earlier than usual, among other issues. To read the comments of our Researchers on current affairs and policy issues, click here.
IPS recently published the Study on Social Capital in Singapore surveying over 3,000 Singaporeans and permanent residents – the first such study on this scale to be conducted here. The study showed a clear divide between social classes in Singapore, and gave recommendations on how to mitigate the divide.
“A common language offers a sense of belonging for ethnic groups, particularly among the minorities, a point of unique differentiation from dominant cultures. It carves, sustains and reinforces a confident sense of identity.” In her Op-Ed, IPS Research Assistant Shanthini Selvarajan explores the meaning of ethnic pride among Singaporean Indian millennials.
In light of the recent upheavals in Singapore’s media industry, financial support from readers is more important than ever, argues IPS Research Assistant Siti Nadzirah Samsudin in her Op-Ed. “If journalism in Singapore fails because of a lack of financial support from readers, it is Singaporeans who ultimately end up the poorer for it.”
Despite recent findings of a relatively broad class divide, the researchers behind the Study on Social Capital in Singapore note that this “does not mean that we are a rather divided country, as some would suggest. Rather, it does indicate that, as a nation, Singapore remains a work-in-progress.”
Singapore Chronicles, a series of short primers on the various aspects of what makes Singapore, Singapore, has published another five titles: Finance, Flora and Fauna, Policing, Sports, and Urban Planning. All the books can be bought in major bookstores and online.
IPS will hold its annual flagship conference, Singapore Perspectives, on 22 January 2018. This year’s theme is “Together”. It will confront Singapore’s rapidly changing demographics, and discuss how Singaporeans can work together to overcome the attendant challenges. It will explore the new demographic dividends, and policy adjustments and options that can enable Singapore to remain an open and vibrant city-state with a productive economy, and a stable and inclusive society. Speakers include academics, industry experts, Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat, and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. Look out for coverage of the conference in the media and IPS’ social media channels.
IPS in the News
IPS Researchers commented on organised misinformation campaigns and the need to legislate this issue. To read the comments of our Researchers on current affairs and policy issues, click here
Chief Executive Officer of the Housing Development Board, Dr Cheong Koon Hean, is the next S R Nathan Fellow for the Study of Singapore. Dr Cheong will deliver three public lectures during her term, which will be from January to May 2018. Details on her lectures will be released next year.
On the occasion of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, IPS Researcher Dr Justin Lee and Mr Victor Zhuang Kuansong took stock of Singapore’s policies to promote a more inclusive society for persons with disabilities, and offer some ideas on the way forward.
Diversity may be valuable within organisations, but its effects are mixed in residential communities. A study by IPS Social Lab found that, in Singapore, neighbourhoods that are more heterogeneous tend to experience higher crime rates. More in this op-ed, an earlier version of which was first published in Lianhe Zaobao.
IPS has launched a new book in the IPS-Nathan Lectures’ Series! This volume collects edited versions of the four lectures and accompanying Q&A sessions of Mr Peter Ho’s term. The cover was designed by Mr Caleb Tan, a young Singaporean illustrator. The book is available at all fine bookstores.
The paperback edition of Migration and integration in Singapore is out! Edited by IPS Researchers Dr Yap Mui Teng, Dr Gillian Koh and Ms Debbie Soon, it examines the social, economic, and political issues in Singapore arising from migration. Get a copy of the paperback here.
What are the human capital concerns in Singapore’s push towards a future economy? IPS convened a workshop with members of the public and private sectors to gather their views on this issue. Read on to learn what was discussed.
“When not done properly, policies or interventions that claim to be ‘inclusive’ can be patronising or even oppressive.” IPS Researchers Dr Justin Lee, Dr Mathew Mathews and Mr Wong Fung Shing, together with collaborator Mr Zhuang Kuansong, recently published an article in the journal Disability Studies Quarterly, explaining the importance of having specific spaces for people with disabilities at work – even if they are seen as exclusive.
The Singapore Economic Roundtable (SER) is a flagship programme of IPS, where current monetary and fiscal policy are assessed in the light of the economic circumstances. The special focus session of the 28th SER was on The ASEAN Economic Community.
The Smart Nation Singapore initiative was conceived in 2014 to keep Singapore at the forefront of the digital age. How have we progressed since its inception? Mr Ng Chee Khern, Permanent Secretary for Smart Nation and Digital Government in the Prime Minister’s Office, shared his insights with the IPS Corporate Associates at a lunch dialogue.
IPS Researchers commented on Professor Tommy Koh’s latest book launch, and his contributions to civil life in Singapore. To read the comments of our Researchers on current affairs and policy issues, click here
THIS WORKSHOP on Human Capital Challenges and the Future Economy was convened on 20 November 2017 by the Institute of Policy Studies. Participants included members of the public and private sectors, representing a range of views from small business owners, large corporations, and policymakers.
The objectives were to examine Singapore’s demographic trends towards 2030 and beyond, and its implications for employers and workers. Discussions ranged from emerging skills deficits to training needs and foreign labour. The following is a summary of the views shared at the workshop.
Singapore’s workforce is ageing, but also changing
Participants agreed that Singapore’s rapidly ageing population would place tremendous stress on the economy. The behaviour of this workforce is also markedly different. Millennials who are now entering the workforce are expected to change jobs up to 25 times over a 40-year career. As life expectancy improves, with nearly half of the population expected to live up to 100 years old, we may see many remaining economically active for up to 70 years. Singapore should therefore explore measures to both expand the labour pool, as well as optimise the human capital stock.
Increasing population of freelancers
Millennials were noted to be far more comfortable with freelance work than earlier generations, potentially swelling the population of freelancers in Singapore. Technological advances have also enlarged the pool of available freelance work, suggesting that freelancing may make up a permanent and sizeable portion of the workforce in the future.
Participants from the private sector also highlighted the increase in numbers of employees on term contracts, where people are hired on an ad-hoc basis when companies require additional manpower. Interestingly, a participant pointed out that statistics gathered by the Singapore government showed that millennials and employees over the age of 60 were more likely to engage in term contracts. Some participants also highlighted the need to recalibrate our social protection, with one pointing out that the NTUC had recently amended its Constitution to cover freelancers.
Around 100 participants attended the workshop on 20 November.
Certain sectors still face manpower issues
Participants agreed that, for now, Singaporeans appear to have accepted a trade-off of lower economic growth for a restrictive foreign labour policy, in favour of social considerations. However, many companies face problems in transforming their business model, such as through digitisation. Some participants pointed out that “high-touch” industries that require human interaction such as social work or healthcare, would face limitations in automation and in hiring local labour. In this regard, certain policies such as increasing foreign worker levies and blanket foreign worker quotas have seemingly constrained growth for many companies, forcing them to shed experienced foreign workers, or shelve plans for expanding their company.
Acute difficulties in finding skilled workers
A participant brought up the Ministry of Manpower’s job vacancy statistics from 2016, citing that nursing and general practitioner/physician occupations have had some of the highest number of long-term job vacancies (at least six months) among all PMET (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians) jobs since 2012. This suggests that these sectors face a shortage of workers willing to pick up such skills, despite sufficient training capacity in our educational institutions.
Private sector should assume more responsibility
Participants also expressed concern over the planned nature of Singapore’s economy. Given the rapid changes occurring in the digital economy, government policy may not be nimble enough to keep up. Private sector leaders should be allowed to assume broader roles in the economy, and take on larger responsibilities in terms of modernising their business models, or hiring choices. Comprehensive government spending in all manner of schemes, such as those helping SMEs to go digital or improving their business processes, ultimately decrease the rate of creative destruction in the economy, hindering future growth.
Employers have considerable influence on employee training
As a participant pointed out, Singapore has one of the lowest proportions of employees receiving funded training from their employers as compared to other developed countries such as Denmark, Norway, and Germany. There is room for improvement. Looking forward, local companies themselves have to step up and invest in training for InfoComm Technology (ICT) positions, and treat this as an investment for growth rather than optional expenses to be avoided.
Addressing skills deficits
A participant observed that resources in education and training are currently concentrated in tertiary and post-graduate education. Over-specialisation in narrow skills will be problematic in a fast-paced economy, and it was suggested that education and training resources could be spread more evenly across an individual’s lifespan.
Some participants also spoke on the SkillsFuture Initiative, and expressed that they had not seen any discernible difference in labour market quality stemming from the initiative. While acknowledging that it was a good initiative to set workers on the path of lifelong learning, some participants felt that Singapore’s focus should perhaps be on quickly improving labour market transitions for workers who lose their jobs.
Ultimately, there exists an opportunity for Singapore to improve our pool of skilled workers – a participant pointed out that around a third of the migrants within the OECD area were highly educated, with a fifth of them originating from India, China, or the Philippines. Further calibration and fine-tuning to our current immigration policies would thus potentially serve our twin interests of continued social cohesion, and faster economic growth.
Participants at the workshop agreed that Singapore is unique as a global city and nation state. It must remain open and responsive to global trends, and not become inward-looking. Ultimately, economic disruptions are not the unprecedented and unmanageable events that they are sometimes made out to be. The economy, however, will not benefit from a one-size-fits-all approach. Singapore’s future economy may therefore see the government playing a less dominant role in shaping industries in Singapore, featuring a greater mix of public, private, and people sector efforts.
Mooris Tjioe is a Research Assistant at the Institute of Policy Studies.
Guest speaker, Mr Ng Chee Khern (right), with chairperson, Dr Limin Hee (centre), and IPS Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, Mr Manu Bhaskaran (left).
SINGAPORE’S Smart Nation initiative was launched by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his 2014 National Day Rally speech. On 7 November 2017, Mr Ng Chee Khern, Permanent Secretary for Smart Nation and Digital Government in the Prime Minister’s Office, was invited to the IPS Corporate Associates’ Lunch to give an update on the initiative, and to discuss opportunities for businesses. Dr Limin Hee, Director of Research at Singapore’s Centre for Liveable Cities, chaired the session and Mr Manu Bhaskaran, IPS Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, gave the opening remarks.
Mr Bhaskaran kicked off the session by highlighting some current Smart Nation initiatives. This included investing in research and development, building computational capabilities, and encouraging experimentation in areas such as autonomous vehicles and equipping HDB homes with smart technologies.
Realising the Smart Nation agenda
Mr Ng provided a brief background on the changes to the Smart Nation initiative, from its launch in 2014 to the recent formation of the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO) under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), which comprised relevant staff from the Ministry of Finance (MOF), Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) and PMO. The Government Technology Agency (GovTech), a statutory board under MCI was also placed under PMO as the SNDGO’s implementing agency. The latest moves were aimed at promoting integration of strategy and processes, and to allow the Government to better prioritise and accelerate key Smart Nation projects such as the National Digital Identity system and e-Payments.
Mr Ng also highlighted some past Government achievements that many may not have been aware of, but have benefitted from, such as the ease of applying for a passport, borrowing books and other resources from the library, and parking without physical coupons. This was because the technologies implemented were meant to be unobtrusive and intuitive for users. And even though little fanfare surrounded these achievements, they set a standard that Singapore could build on.
Also in the works were plans to develop the next generation of digital infrastructure, and the introduction of a ‘Public Sector Governance Bill’, which would allow government agencies to share data more freely amongst agencies, to allow Government to better reap the benefits of big data.
Selling Singapore as a Smart Nation
Becoming a Smart Nation is integral to Singapore’s future. Mr Ng shared with the audience that the justification of moving towards a Smart Nation was borne out of “hope” and “fear” – hope for opportunities of a better future for both citizens and businesses, and fear of Singapore being left behind. Mr Ng added that Smart Nation is about taking full advantage of technology to create convenience to make lives better for citizens, enterprise effectiveness to make businesses more productive and efficient, and job opportunities for current and future generations.
Mr Ng said that globally, the “pace of change will only accelerate and Singapore has to be well positioned to embrace these changes”. He gave the frank assessment that while Singapore was progressing “well enough” towards becoming a Smart Nation, we should not be complacent. There were areas where other countries such as Dubai, China and India, did better. These countries are in competition with us for investments. For example, Dubai announced its intention for government agencies to go paperless by 2021. A startup based in London or Boston could just as easily choose to go to Dubai and not Singapore. Singapore must strike the right balance: Starting bold and ambitious – but achievable – projects to attract the best people and talent. He added that since our rivals were aggressive in promoting their plans, we should not sell ourselves short, and be too modest about our achievements, otherwise we would lose out in the global competition for investments and talent.
Mr Ng also said that Smart Nation is intended to be inclusive by design and to benefit all segments of society. As an example, scoping ourselves as a ‘smart city’ or ‘smart government’ is not sufficient, as the benefits need to be extended to the private sector and create job opportunities as well. Industry and citizen engagement and citizen engagement was also important. However, Mr Ng acknowledged that many Singaporeans were not receptive towards new technologies, for the fear that it would take away, instead of create jobs. He said that the government would have to address this, and wished that there could be a “social movement” to drive enthusiasm for Smart Nation.
Wanted: Digital champions
Mr Ng said that companies should seize the opportunities provided by the government to become “digital champions”. This could mean bidding for government contracts to develop new technologies, or partnering with the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to digitalise their business. The government would like to facilitate the matching of the needs of government agencies with innovative companies and tap on the expertise of leading industry players and research institutions to drive technological improvements. There would also be a calendar of events for 2018 that would include industry briefings, roundtables, and thematic workshops to engage industry players.
Mr Ng emphasised that government alone could not drive the Smart Nation vision. Businesses would have to play their part “to convince Singaporeans that going digital is safe and efficient”.
Dr Hee asked how the government could foster open innovation in Singapore. She said that big names in the autonomous vehicle industry would prefer to carry out tests in Japan as “their regulations are kinder than any other country on automation”. In response, Mr Ng said that companies could tap into the various sources of funding from the government and leverage expertise within the government. Most government agencies have adopted a pro-enterprise, pro-innovation mindset, and created sandboxes for experimentation. Furthermore, the government has also adopted a light-touch approach on regulation.
Another participant asked how Singapore would plan to deal with issues of ethics and consciousness with the rise of artificial intelligence (AI). Mr Ng replied that there could be a council to guide AI ethics and governance, similar to the current Bioethics Advisory Committee that provides guidance on bioscience research. Singapore could learn from other countries with more experience with AI. He added that Singapore would probably take a moderate stance on data privacy issues, taking reference from China (being the most lax) and the European Union (being the strictest).
A participant asked Mr Ng about some of the strategies Singapore could employ in co-existing with China as a technological giant, while noting the danger of ceding to foreign players control over sensitive sectors of the economy. Mr Ng replied that the government has not identified the areas in which Singapore would want to maintain sovereign capability in. Foreign players had not shown much direct interest in the Singapore market as it was small. It was also unlikely that the freedom of operation Chinese technological companies have enjoyed in China would last forever. To illustrate, Mr Ng gave the anecdote of a Chinese official who wondered how Singapore had managed to maintain competitiveness in its e-Payment landscape amongst multiple payment modes, as opposed to letting a single player dominate.
Another participant asked about the sustainability of a Smart Nation, and whether it could burst like the dot.com bubble. In response, Mr Ng said that the scenario was unlikely to happen. Unlike the dot.com boom that had a narrower base, smart technologies such as big data, AI, and robotics, were pervasive and would have an impact on every aspect of our lives.
In closing, Dr Hee asked Mr Ng whether he saw himself more as the Wizard of Oz or an enlightened entrepreneur. She explained, “people viewed the wizard as an omnipotent being, when it was just a guy in the closet pulling a lot of levers”. The enlightened entrepreneur on the other hand “pushes out a lot of data and data insights and encourage developers to jump in”. He replied, “I think there are different personas”, adding that, “in a very narrow sense, my role is just to implement projects”. At a wider level, he would have to drum up enthusiasm and encourage enough of a movement to ensure that Singapore succeeds as a Smart Nation.